Grey Partridges Flock Back to Scottish Farms
3 rd September, 2002
Grey Partridges are being encouraged back to Scottish fields under a new initiative which helps farmers sow bird-friendly crops on their land. More than 100 acres of beneficial plants such as kale and barley have been sown in strips of low value land to provide nest sites, food and winter cover for partridges and other struggling farmland species, including linnets, yellow hammers and corn buntings.
The pilot project, which has been carried out on 40 East Lothian farms, was funded by East Lothian Biodiversity, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and ScottishPower, and has released initial results in time for Scottish Biodiversity Week.
In the first count since the the crops were sown in Spring this year 136 pairs of birds were recorded by farmers during the last season, an encouraging figure given the wet conditions. However, the area is thought to support at least 147 pairs and organisers hope that numbers will rise significantly above this as the crops become established during the two-year project. Grey Partridges, not to be confused with the often-bred red-legged partridge, have declined by around 80 per cent in the last 30 years in Scotland. Although East Lothian is an important stronghold for them, some farms have experienced 80 per cent declines since the early 1990s.
Stuart Macpherson, biodiversity officer at East Lothian Council said:
"We have been really pleased by the response we got from farmers who wanted to participate in this project. Grey partridges have been sorely missed from our arable land and this is a concerted effort to get them back. In the long term we hope that it will become part of normal agricultural practice to sow wild bird cover on all farms throughout Scotland so that the grey partridge and other once-common field birds will return in healthier numbers."
Many agricultural fields are ploughed right up to the fence line, which destroys potential nest and feeding sites for field birds. Grey partridges are particularly vulnerable as those farmers who do leave unploughed areas tend to do so on patches near woodland, which are not conducive to these birds. By sowing a strip of 'wild bird cover' alongside hedges and dykes away from woodland and bog sites, grey partridges and other species are attracted by the ready food supply and adequate cover. Grey partridge chicks feed on the insects which flourish on the crop's flowers and eat weeds such as daisies and chickweed as they mature.
Under the European Commission's Common Agricultural Policy arable farmers are legally obliged to take some land out of food production, which is called 'set aside'. This can be used in a number of ways, including sowing crops which help threatened wildlife such as the grey partridge.
"Set Aside is the one bit of unused land that all arable farms must have. Most farmers would not quibble with the idea of using some of this to benefit wildlife, but farming policy often makes this more difficult than it needs to be. The grey partridge project will not last forever. But, if we want to see grey partridges and other wildlife last forever we need to have sensible farming policies that actively encourage farmers to conserve wildlife."
Alan Leitch From Scottish Natural Heritage said:
"This is great news to come out during Scottish Biodiversity Week! Grey partridges were once a key part of our farm ecosystems, but they have lost out due to intensive farming. The East Lothian project has helped support farmers to provide the right conditions to bring the grey partridge back."
Scottish Biodiversity Week is nine days of events and activities, organised by environmental and community groups, government agencies and individuals, which aims to raise awareness about Scotland's rich variety of animals, plants, fungi, microbes and the habitats in which they live. Over 100 events are planned across the country, ranging from guided walks, talks, interactive games and exhibitions to mushroom hunting, tree and wildflower planting.
This is the second year the week has run and it also coincides with the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which is being held in Johannesburg and will include a civic delegation from Scotland led by First Minister Jack McConnell.
Press contact: Sarah Roe, Press and PR Officer, SNH Tel: 0131 446 2270
Notes to editors
Biodiversity was a term first coined at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and encompasses all the wildlife and habitats in our ecosystem. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which was published in 1994, is Britain's response to the convention and sets out an attainable goal for biodiversity conservation.
For more information look upWWW.UKBAP.ORG.UK